TAMPA – Maybe the talk should not be can Brayden Point and his Lightning line shutdown Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals' top line, but can Ovechkin and company find a way to score against the Point line during the Eastern Conference final, which begins Friday at Amalie Arena.
"I don't know," Point said. "I think they're pretty confident. Ovechkin has played against, in his time with the Olympics and stuff like that, some of the best guys at defending."
"It's a tough job," Point said. "Those guys are skilled and talented, but if we're matched up against them, obviously we're going to do our best."
Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat shut down the Taylor Hall line in Round 1 against the Devils and, after some opening-night jitters, they turned the Patrice Bergeron line into a nonfactor during even strength-play in Round 2 against the Bruins.
Next up is Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, who have combined for 12 even-strength goals during the first two rounds. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have five each during 5-on-5 play.
When asked to compare the Bergeron line to the Ovechkin line, Point said, "There's a lot of similarities there. They are all supertalented players that move the puck well and skate well. If Wilson's playing with them, they are a bit more physical. Ovechkin's a big body. He finishes checks, too. Kuznetsov can really skate, so there's some similiarities but definitely some differences, so hopefully we can do a good job against them."
Johnson said the key will be limiting the time Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have with the puck and not allowing them much room to operate when they do have it.
"Kind of like we did in the last series," Johnson said. "But it's going to take everybody on the ice. It has to be a five-man unit, and you have to play that way."
Let's get physical
The Lightning averaged 21.1 hits per game during the regular season but upped that to 30.2 during the first round against the Devils. In the five games against the Bruins, that average climbed to 34.2.
It became noticeable in Game 4 against the Devils when the Nikita Kucherov and Braydon Coburn delivered a couple of big hits. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said that since that was working, it made sense to stick with it.
While the Lightning is not known as a physical team, Cooper said that style of play is there.
"Our game plan going in was to make it hard on teams. That's it," Cooper said. "Our M.O. is to make it hard by trying to outscore them but make it hard by not giving them opportunities – make it hard on them physically – and it's been working for us. Stuff starts getting contagious, and everybody starts getting on board. It carried on through the Boston series, and it worked really well for us."
He said it
"Winning four games."
Steven Stamkos, when asked for the key to the series
Happy to be here? Think again
The perception is the Capitals are so happy to have made it past the Penguins in the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era that they are just happy to have finally reached the Eastern Conference final.
Steven Stamkos is not buying that story line.
"Those guys are just as excited as we are to be here," Stamkos said. "It's a different team each year. It's different players. The past is the past. I think you get in to these situations and you go out there and you want to win.
"They had their time to celebrate. We've had our time to celebrate, and it's no easy feat getting to the conference finals. But once that puck drops, it's two teams that want to have the chance to get to the Stanley Cup final."
Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.